Some dude not getting paid, doing it for his cousins


Prompted by a recent talk I attended by the brilliant Punya Mishra, I re-watched this 2011 Charlie Rose interview with Sal Khan. It was well worth the price of admission just to hear Punya’s point on the disconnect between the higher order skills Khan employs to create his videos (e.g., immerse, question, scaffold, make intuitive connections, assimilate, distill, teach) and the lower order skills that are implicitly required of the learners who watch them (e.g., ingest, reproduce, progress linearly).


I’m looking at a person who seems interested in everything and passionate to tell others


At one point in the interview, Rose asked Khan what “it” was that made the videos so successful and appealing to a wide range of learners. His answer: “the human element.” This is a bit surprising considering most of his videos are simple screencasts of him writing on a tablet, but watch them for any amount of time and you get the distinct sense that the “man behind the curtain” really loves doing what he’s doing. Sure, it helps that Khan is very knowledgeable and, as Dewey would put it, quite adept at psychologizing the subject matter, but I think he touches on another thread.


The messenger, ironically enough, is more important than the message…if the messenger is excited and passionate about what they have to say…it stimulates students to see what all this excitement is about


I’m not sure I fully agree with the above quote, but being seen as a “human messenger” matters — perhaps even more in our increasingly artificial world. Students can sniff out inauthentic teachers from a mile away and that matters. This “it” was debated in a recent Chronicle article, which looked for a common denominator between two very different teacher-of-the-year awardees — one who majors on technology and active learning and another who majors on stand-and-deliver lecturing. Passion isn’t everything, but it is something. Passion isn’t a personality trait, it’s a human trait, a trait that surfaces in those who have been released to explore and play and discover without having to worry about their safety or their next meal or getting the “wrong” answer. At the end of the day, authentic teachers incessantly improve their craft not because they’re getting paid, but because they love learning and love helping others to learn. And this shows, it always shows. I think that matters a lot.


 You seem like a good guy—you’ll make a great teacher…be a good guy with your students, and you’ll be a great professor




  1. You are right.  Passionate teachers = engaged students.  Teachers who take on teaching like a vocation or mission are able to instill confidence in students and inspire them to try their best.  For another example like Sal Khan, check out Robert Ahdoot from Yay Math.  Kids love learning math from him because he exudes passion about a subject that does not excite a lot of kids.  Knowledge and pedagogy are necessary for a teacher, but passion and the ability to inspire students makes the biggest difference in the classroom.

  2. Thanks for the comment Joe! I’ll have to check out his work.

  3. Andy, Ahdoot is really great.  Unlike Khan, he films his lessons in front of his class so the give and take with students adds an extra dimension, which some viewers might find more appealing than the simplicity of Sal’s tablet.  I’m not sure that one method is better than the other, but both teachers are incredibly effective at explaining the concepts and communicating in a manner that truly engages the students in the learning process.  We are always on the lookout for more excellent teachers like this for an education video library we are launching called Backpack TV (  If you get a chance, check it out and let me know what you think.  Thanks, Joe

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